Your Choice of COVID-19 Vaccine Will Determine Where You Can Travel

Your Choice of COVID-19 Vaccine Will Determine Where You Can Travel

As the world re-opens its borders to international travel after the coronavirus pandemic, it is becoming clear that your choice of vaccine may determine where you’re allowed to travel.

The EU is planning to allow Americans and other vaccinated travellers to travel into the European and Schengen Countries, from this summer, if they have been vaccinated by a vaccine that is approved by the European Medicines Agency.

The current list of vaccines approved the the European drug agency are:

It means that if you have taken the vaccine by Chinese makers like Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Sinopharm Group Co. Ltd. or the Russian Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac), you are likely to be barred from entry for the foreseeable future. Which of course may be a setback for international travel.

On the other hand, China also only currently recognises Chinese-made vaccines, and its vaccines not approved in the US or in Western Europe.

Currently, to enter China, you need a Health Declaration Form from the Chinese Embassy providing evidence of negative nucleic acid and IgM antibody tests for COVID-19 taken no more than 48 hours before you travel or alternatively, prove inoculation with a vaccine produced in China. Following health checks on arrival, you will then need to enter mandatory quarantine for at least 14 days

Bloomberg found a married couple based in Hong Kong, which has two vaccine options available; one from Sinovac and the other by Pfizer BioNTech. The wife plans to sign up for Sinovac for easier movement in and out of mainland China. Meanwhile, her British husband will go for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, she says to boost his chances of visiting family in the UK.

Russia, on the other hand has approved three vaccine shots; CoviVac and produced by the Chumakov Centre, the Sputnik V shot, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute and finally, EpiVacCorona developed by the Vector Institute in Novosibirsk. Although only testing is required for Russia, no mandatory vaccinations are currently required..

The Russian government initially did not plan to introduce COVID passports. But at the end of January 2021, Russians started to receive electronic vaccination certificates. The Russian COVID passport is a QR code with data on the vaccination against the COVID-19 virus.

Vaccination information is stored in the registry of the Russian Ministry of Health.

You can get the document in two cases: if you have had the coronavirus or if you have been vaccinated. After the second shot of the vaccine, a certificate is issued with the dates of both procedures, the name and series of the vaccine and the doctor’s signature. An electronic version of the certificate automatically appears in your personal account on the public services portal.

The QR code of the vaccination certificate can be saved on your smartphone. It is also available through the mobile application “State Services” and “State Services STOP Coronavirus”.

Since February 5, 2021, covid passports have been issued in Bashkortostan. The certificate also represents a unique QR code. The holder of a covid passport is exempt from the “high alert” regime restrictions, can attend mass events, receive discounts in stores, swimming pools, restaurants and theaters in the region.

Other regions of Russia may also lift quarantine restrictions for vaccinated citizens. The decision is taken at the local level.

Paper covid passport of a Russian citizen

Certificate given to a Russian citizen after the second dose of coronavirus vaccination

Covid passport in Russia on the gosudlugi portal

This is what a vaccination certificate looks like, which is automatically generated on the state services portal

For millions of people worldwide who can’t choose which vaccines they get, the risk of more places becoming selective about which shots they recognize, especially given the vaccines’ varying efficacy rates, creates the possibility that even fully inoculated, people’s travel could still be limited.

Mutual Recognition

It has been more than a year since Europe, the USA, and others have shut their borders amid the pandemic, some allowing entry only to citizens, and even then, with weeks-long quarantines after arrival. While vaccines are seen as the way to remove those entry barriers, considerable uncertainty remains over how, or if, nations will differentiate the at least 11 shots available worldwide.

Governments from China, to the USA, to Europe are discussing vaccine passports, but it’s unclear if countries will pursue universal recognition of all shots, or be selective on which they choose to recognize, particularly with the rise of virus variants and questions over whether the current crop of vaccines is as effective against them. China is expected to approve the Pfizer BioNTech jab later this year.

China isn’t the only place that’s restricting access to people with certain vaccinations. Iceland currently omits Chinese and Russian vaccines from the list of those it approves for entry.

The question of vaccine recognition is going to come to a head for tourism-dependent countries, with the $9 trillion global travel industry effectively paralyzed since the pandemic began. Expect things to change.

For example, Chinese tourists have been among the biggest groups of foreign visitors to travel hot spots in Europe, America, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand before the pandemic.

While Indonesia, home to Bali, and Thailand have approved and are administering Chinese shots, New Zealand and Australia, which has seen their relations with China deteriorate the past year, do not.

The UK’s Vaccine App

Evidence of having had a vaccine is vital for some airlines, holidays and cruises while reducing the number and cost of tests in destinations like France, Greece and Cyprus.

Vaccinations will not be necessary at most destinations, but mandatory for many cruises, some tours and a handful of flights this summer. Greece, Spain, and Portugal have said UK travellers won’t need to be vaccinated for travel this summer. However, if you have not been vaccinated you will have to submit to COVID-19 tests and therefore face increased costs.  

The UK government has said it is developing the NHS app to provide proof of vaccination at airports and borders. This will be your vaccine passport. It’s not yet clear exactly how this will work and if it is interoperable with the EU’s digital green certificate

The UK vaccine passport will be on the main NHS app, rather than the test and trace app.  Proof of your vaccination status will automatically be uploaded to the app, but in some cases, you may need to request your GP add your details.

Other issues with the app are that you need to be running the latest version of your phone’s software and therefore is unlikely to work on some older smartphones.

A paper version will also be available but both will be available from Monday, 17 May, when the ban on foreign travel is eased.

Other countries across the EU have already developed vaccine passports. Denmark’s is live but undergoing further testing. Italy expects to have theirs ready by this month. Germany’s is also ready to launch but is also under further improvements as it is hoping to integrate to the EU wide app, and Norway is hoping to launch theirs by June.

What are your thoughts on the vaccines and vaccine passports? Are you excited to travel again? Talk to us in the comment section below.

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